Home' Future Building: The Australian Infrastructure Review : July 2011 Contents 18 futurebuilding
Volume 2 Number 1
Basic skills seem a world away from complex
billion-dollar infrastructure projects. But skills and
related labour force productivity are vital pieces
of a labour puzzle that is threatening Australia’s
economic momentum. Left unchecked, Australia’s
skills shortage will drive wages higher, reduce the
pool of labour for critical projects, cause delays and
compromise quality in the nation’s infrastructure
Industry is pursuing a range of initiatives to
cope with the skills challenge. Over the long-term,
this must include a much stronger and sustained
focus on encouraging students into science and
mathematics disciplines from early school age.
In the immediate term, industry is also bringing a
major focus to better recognition of previous skills
to fast-track qualifications – and to broadening
the pool of potential employees for infrastructure
projects, especially women and older workers.
Governments have also partnered with industry
to renew federal and state government training
All are worthy and smart initiatives, but none
offer a game changer to the immediate demand
for skills that is growing by the day. In the short
term, temporary skilled migration holds a key – and
over the longer term, we will need to accept the
requirement for a bigger Australia to counter an
ageing workforce and lower participation rate.
A Treasury briefing to Prime Minister Julia
Gillard last year said strong
position questioned in the
lead-up to last year’s federal
election when both major
parties argued variations on the
theme that the country ‘should
not hurtle down the track
towards a big population’.
Any small population position is a gamble.
Business is under intense pressure to find enough
skilled workers – at the right price – to deliver
infrastructure and mining projects that will drive
the next leg of Australia’s economic growth and
prosperity. And these pressures show no sign
of abating in the medium or long term without
Business is acutely aware of the skills risk.
Leighton Holdings Chief Executive David Stewart
earlier this year described the shortage as one of his
company’s greatest challenges. Wesfarmers Chief
Executive Richard Goyder has said parts of that
company were losing staff to higher-paying jobs in
Queensland and Western Australia.
Transfield Services Chief Executive Peter Goode
said in March that his company was becoming
more selective about taking on national contracts,
amid concerns it may not have enough staff to
complete them. WorleyParsons Chief Executive
John Grill says his engineering service group was
bringing people to Australia using 457 visas, which
allow companies to recruit skilled overseas workers
for up to four years.
The latest CEO survey by the Australian Industry
Group (Ai Group) found skills shortages remain
a major problem, and that companies expect
shortages to intensify over coming years. Ai Group
Chief Executive, Heather Ridout, said, ‘We remain
very concerned about skills shortages and their
likely impact on companies. Estimates that our
economy will be 240,000 skilled people short are
in line with the feedback we are receiving from
Continued on page 20
Skills crisis at tipping point
By Tony Featherstone
‘Bigger Australia’ has to be the long-term
answer, but more can be done now.
acutely aware of
the skills risk.
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